By Alan Hubbard
These are heady days for heavyweights. Not since those halcyon times when Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and co were kings has there been as much genuine fascination with the big guys of boxing mix’n’matching it with each other. And British sluggers are to the forefront of the fray.
Olympic champion Anthony Joshua has claimed redemption by regaining the three world heavyweight title he lost ingloriously to podgy pug Andy Ruiz jnr.
AJ is now gearing up for a mandatory title defence against Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev, possibly at Tottenham Hotspur‘s new ground in June while the O2 is sure to be filled to capacity on April 11 for the tastiest all- British dust-up for many years when the unbeaten new young British heavyweight champion Daniel Dubois faces the Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce. Both are unbeaten and have knocked out all but one of their opponents respectively.
It is a true super-fight which has taken promoter Frank Warren some time to get together. What is certain is one of them will emerge as another British world title contender.
More immediately however the spotlight will be on Las Vegas on Saturday week when the Brit who is now leading the charge for heavyweight domination once again struts his inimitable stuff.
As we reported here last week Tyson Fury is a slight favourite even in the US to snatch Deontay Wilder’s belt and bring it home to Britain, where we await that clash of the British heavyweight Titans nearer home. Dynamite Dan v Juggernaut Joe is potentially the most attractive heavyweight pairing in this country for many years.
Of course they have been some great domestic duels, Benn v Eubank immediately springs to mind, but few in the heavyweight division. Lewis v Bruno apart you have to go back to the days of Henry Cooper V Joe Erskine or even Bruce Woodcock v Freddie Mills – the latter well before even my time.
Then there are the ones that got away, matches we wanted to see but never did such as Ricky Hatton v Junior Witter and the return between George Groves and James DeGale.
On a personal note for the best all British fight I have ever seen I must take you back to the night of April 9, 1963 when two fresh-faced young featherweights Frankie ‘Tiger’ Taylor and Lenny ‘The Lion’ Williams clashed at the Royal Albert Hall.
There had been much pre-fight speculation in the build up to what turned out to be a sizzling punch-packed contest, both were unbeaten and had captured the public imagination with their hot rivalry and distinctly different fighting styles. Taylor was 20, Britain’s first European amateur champion, an all- action aggressive box-fighter and Welsh champion Williams, 19, a southpaw with a Dubois-like string of ko victories.
It is fair to say the nation was agog with excited anticipation when they finally got it together. And we weren’t disappointed. I must confess a personal interest as Taylor was also an aspiring young journalist, a junior sports reporter with his hometown newspaper the Lancaster Guardian.
When he turned pro I was instrumental in bringing him down to London to work alongside me in Fleet Street, giving him plenty of time off to train for his fights under the tuition of probably Britain’s best ever coach, Bobby Neill, the former British featherweight champion.
Although Taylor was my colleague, flatmate and friend I did my best not to be biased when writing my preview.
Not so my then girlfriend Jeannie who was soon to become my sadly late wife. She was a close friend of Bobby Neill’s own late wife Lauri. They screamed her head heads off in support of fearless Frankie as the fight progressed, almost falling off their balcony perches.
A sensational scrap it was from the first bell they went at it non-stop, slamming and bamming toe to toe. Those feathers certainly flew that night. Every round had a packed crowd on its feet until suddenly, midway through the sixth,Taylor fired an arrow-like straight right hand which hit Williams bang on the button. The bold boyo from Maesteg fell back, spark out before he hit the canvas. In the press seats I had to restrain myself from joining in the cheering.
Inevitably there was a return and as so many reruns do it turned out to be a much tamer and one-sided affair at Wembley’s Empire Pool with Taylor easily stopping Williams in four rounds.
Both retired three years later, Taylor with an eye injury and Williams after losing a British title fight to fellow Welshman Howard Winstone. Taylor went in to become boxing correspondent of the People and now retired he lives in Morecambe aged 78. Williams passed away four years ago aged 72.
But those who were there at the Royal Albert Hall in April 1963 will never forget the night the Tiger became a Lion-tamer.
What a night and what a fight!
If Dubois V Joyce is anywhere near as good – and you can be sure it will be – it will be one that is also lodged in the memory forever.
ONE THiNG THAT Seemed to be overlooked in the tributes paid to Sammy McCarthy who passed away last week was that at 88 he was Britain’s oldest surviving British champion. That title now passes to Bobby Neill, like Smilin’ Sam a former British featherweight champion who is still very much alive and punching at 86. A lovely chap Sammy, always cheery and ready with a grin, and nod and a handshake.a skillful and entertaining boxer too.
However he did have his downside, at one time running with some of the East End underworld although he he himself was never a man of violence. The story goes that he once acted as lookout man for a gang of armed robbers but because he was so recognisable he dressed as a woman. When he saw the police arrive Sam hotfooted it – but he forgot he was wearing high heels, tripped and fell and was promptly nicked, spending quite a few years inside.
But he never let this affect his sunny demeanour and was still smiling to the end.